I’m working with a newly qualified paramedic today. As we check our equipment we chat about how pissed off he is that, although he’s been doing the full role and not getting any extra support during the pandemic, he’s still on the probationary wage. He says his girlfriend is a student nurse covering wards on no pay at all.
Our first job is helping transfer a Covid-positive patient to hospital using specialist equipment. We’re all in highest level PPE. It still feels very odd to be outside on a suburban street in that gear.
Once we’re finished and tidied up, we try to clarify what cleaning processes are needed. One phone call to the hub that we ring for support and advice, gets one instruction, the second phone call the opposite. We’ve been issued with reams of guidance, an overwhelming amount of information which is impossible to keep up with, yet staff are still individually blamed if they don’t follow it to the letter. So we sit and wait, using the time for a coffee.
A text from a work and union mate improves the day. He’s been discharged from hospital after 16 days on a ventilator. He’s lost four stone, is not able to walk or speak, but says he’s “grateful to be here”.
The risks health workers have been forced to take are very real. When I think about the trauma faced by some of my workmates and the permanent damage the illness will do to them, I feel upset, angry, and guilty for accepting some of the daily complacency. But at that moment I’m lifted by the thought that he has started on the road of recovery.
Finally we’re told our vehicle needs a deep clean, so we book off the road to swap vehicles. We get one of the old worn-out ambulances, which always happens at this time of day, because people leave them until last. That means working the rest of the shift on a cramped vehicle with old equipment. I spend the rest of the day apologising to patients for the bumpy ride.
Near the end of our shift we get a job right over the other side of town. In an effort to get the patient support at home, rather than an unnecessary hospital visit, I spend 40 minutes on the phone listening to answer machine music, before finally getting through to a nurse, who, as well as answering these calls, is running a ward.
“What time does your shift finish?” she asks me. 25 minutes ago.
• Alice Hazel is a paramedic and a Unison activist